The spirited Egyptian author and feminist Nawal El Saadawi is not afraid of castigating the hypocrisy of the political system and the continued violations of women’s rights in her country. Arian Fariborz spoke to her in Cairo for Qantara.


Nawal al-Saadawi (c) Borberg / Wikimedia

Nawal al-Saadawi (c) Borberg / Wikimedia

Qantara: Ms Saadawi, do you see yourself primarily as a writer or as a political campaigner for women’s rights?

Nawal El Saadawi: I don’t like the word “political”. I hate politics! It’s a dirty game. I see myself as a creative writer, because I write novels and plays as well as scholarly treatises, both fiction and non-fiction.

Qantara:  You embarked on a writing career in the late 1960s. Milestones in your literary and scholarly work thus far include books such as “Women and Sex” and “The Hidden Face of Eve”. How do you explain your continued success today, not only in Egypt but all over the world?

El Saadawi: Are you asking me why books by talented writers sell well? Well, because it’s good literature! Because the writing is creative, scholarly, unique and authentic. Because it is something that comes equally from the heart and the mind – something that stems from experience and not only from book learning. My fiction and my studies are about real life; they are original, creative and sincere. That’s why people like them. That is completely normal.

Qantara:  You were once accused of being a handmaid for Western interests …

El Saadawi: Yes, they claimed that through my literature, I sought to serve Western interests, which is absolutely absurd. It was the fundamentalist groups that began to distort the image of creative writers and to denounce them publicly. They did this not only with me but with all independent writers who were not the devoted servants of Sadat or Mubarak or Morsi. To be truly independent, I have had to pay a high price in my life – my professional employment, my income, my reputation.
In April 2012, a court in Egypt suspended the 100-member constituent assembly on the grounds that it did not reflect the diversity of Egyptian society. A new assembly, which was responsible for amending the constitution that had been suspended in 2012, was appointed in the autumn of 2013. According to Nawal El Saadawi, the new assembly was hardly more representative of Egyptian society than the previous one

Qantara: You have experienced persecution on a number of occasions: in 1981, when President Sadat was in office, you were arrested; in the 1990s, your name was on the death lists of Islamic zealots; and in 2002, you were accused of apostasy. How have you managed to persevere with your work despite all the political adversity?

El Saadawi: I would probably have been imprisoned during the rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser too – under all presidents and governments, in fact. I am also censored in the West. The reason can be found in the capitalist, religious and patriarchal system, regardless of whether it has Islamic, Christian, Jewish or Buddhist characteristics. I am against this system at both local and global level. This is also the reason why I am continually attacked – in Egypt as well as in Europe. I am not welcome in the West. I am welcomed by a few forward-thinking people who are likewise opposed to the patriarchy, to capitalism, neoliberalism and militarism. These are also the people who appreciate my literature. The vast majority, however, believe in the capitalist system.

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(c) Qantara, 2014